Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Memoir: Chapter eleven: A school girl who instantly hated Dick, Jane, and Spot

The fall after I turned six I went to school for the first time riding the bus to Boulder with the Salt Gulch kids who lived there year around which included Frank and Barbara Coleman and Marilyn and Mack, step children of Morias Hall. Morias had married their mother Marie and brought her to Boulder. She was now pregnant with their second child. 
I had been studying how people lived who did not tolerate alcoholism in their home. Barbara's father, Parley, did not own a ranch as large as my father's Salt Gulch ranch, nor were the water rights as good, but I thought he and his wife Esther lived a more sensible life with their eleven children than my mother and dad did with only three children. Parley did not drink and neither did his boys. 
As far as I could see Barbara's parents never quarreled at all and seemed content with simple entertainments they came up with to keep their children occupied. The kids played all kinds of games and Barbara and Gay were delightful teachers. They  showed Margie and me how much fun we could have playing steal the house in their pasture, and making squaberry beer, and fashioning hollyhock dolls. Sometimes their older sister Leah, who had worked for us at the cheese factory house, would play with us which was even more fun.I always liked it when older kids took an interest in us younger ones. 
Although Barbara and Gay had no horses to ride--their father and older brothers had to use them for farming--they possessed a great deal of nerve. Barbara would even handle snakes when she found them which always caused me to run home. I had developed a phobia about snakes. I had nightmares about them. 
Barbara had also been taken to all the notable places to hike to by her older brothers and sisters. The general history of Salt Gulch the family knew well from living there a long time. She said she would guide me on hikes so I could see all the sights there were to see in Salt Gulch. She even volunteered to take me on hikes in Boulder, once I was old enough. But her family was very proud of the rugged Salt Gulch terrain which they seemed to think was quite as spectacular as the Boulder side. I could hardly wait for summer to come so I could go to legendary places in that country led by an expert like Barbara. She did not know what my father's home town of Escalante was all about but she sure knew the country.

Marilyn, a couple of years older, was very beautiful but did not like Salt Gulch at all. She had been sad about leaving the big city. I felt sorry for her because she had never wanted to be a pioneer girl as I had. I always figured if I could not cross the plains in a covered wagon pulled by oxen, I could still live a primitive pioneer's life on a ranch my grandfather had homesteaded.  
When I got to school I found out there was another girl, Elaine, in the first grade who was from a large family, too. Elaine and Barbara were distantly related. I soon surmised her father was not an alcoholic either, so their home was bound to be more peaceful than ours. I thought Elaine was as beautiful as Marilyn, with her elegant long nose and big almond shaped dark eyes. 
LaRell was the only boy in our class. I felt very sorry for him because his dad had died of a heart ailment a year or so before leaving his mother on a little sandy ranch with eight children to raise and hardly any water rights. They missed their gentle lovable father very badly because they were now dreadfully poor with none of the boys big enough to go to work except Hayward.
But my greatest joy that year was to be my teacher, Golda Petersen, who had been persuaded to teach in Boulder that year but said she was going to leave the following year to go to Wayne Country to marry her fiance, Hans Jackson, another teacher. Golda was red headed and very kind. She made a special point to tell me that she had three younger sisters she dearly loved, who were all red headed! I thought my sisters had beautiful hair, too, but it was not red even though I was very proud to have a red headed Grandmother King. 
In the first grade, I regret to say that I did not like Dick and Jane and Spot at all. I can't tell you how those first grade primers aggravated me. Mother was confused and could not figure out why I so passionately hated Dick, Jane, and Spot. I thought it was too risky to tell her that no children were as simple minded and ignorant about life as Dick and Jane. I just could not wait to get to more interesting books to read. As far as I could see all the primers, even for the grades above me, had the same excruciatingly boring stories in them. 
I could not wait to get to the novels Mother loved to read to my Dad's disgust that might enlighten me about the problems that bedeviled my life.

Given my penchant for analyzing problems I had already concluded that Grandma King with her love of socializing in church had inadvertently done a bad thing moving to Escalante every winter so her children could attend better schools. I doubted if the boys had gotten any better education than the children were getting in the two room school house in Boulder the parents had insisted on building. Why hadn't Grandma and Grandpa King decided to send their kids to the Boulder school, such as it was, allowing husband, wife, and kids to stay together the year around? 
Perhaps it had been the custom back then for some of the women to move to a bigger town in the winter, but I thought it had been a terrible mistake because on her own Grandma was not able to control those wild boys of hers! They needed Grandpa King's stronger hand at all times, even if he applied the bull whip when extremely exasperated. In fact, they got so out of control during the winter, that was probably why he was driven to the bullwhip to try to straighten them out come summer.
I could see from what my cousin Ray had learned in Escalante that he revealed to me on rare visits how my dad and his brothers must have acted at his age. They had undoubtedly tampered with alcohol and tobacco, and since they did not have a ranch in Escalante, were far too idle in town during the winter months when they should have been kept so busy with chores they would not have had time to get into mischief.
Living in town might have seemed more entertaining to Grandma and Aunt Hazel who were saintly women and loved a big town relief society, but why hadn't they seen that town was no good for their boys who tampered with alcohol every one of them even while children!
In fact, since Grandpa King had not married until he was thirty I could not help but wonder if he had fallen into the same temptations as my dad might have done during his teen and bachelor years, which might have caused him to prefer that Grandma live in town while he stayed on the ranch with the hired men! 
Oh, the things I thought about after I was molested that were not to be found in the Dick and Jane and Spot first grade primers! But I thought studying these heavy problems was crucial to my survival, because even though I was now able to keep that molester at bay, every single weekend, my father, who I thought of as two men, came home to disturb the peace of our home with his drunken antics. 

By this point in her marriage, my mother seemed to go slightly insane every time she saw her husband drunk. She would immediately start calling him names and she would fight with him sometimes all night long! She just could not be calm when she saw that he had altered his total personality in a state of drunkenness she could not and would not tolerate without a violent protest. She would always say she had not been raised that way.  Her dad and brothers kept the Mormon Word of Wisdom.  And never drank.  

Therefore Grandma and Grandpa Wilson did not understand alcoholics nor it seemed did Grandma and Grandpa King, since Grandpa was not alcoholic even though his four sons were and some of his grandsons! Some of Grandpa's hired men even got drunk regularly on their days off.
In school, I realized that I was the poor little daughter of a bad town drunk right away from some of the names the school boys would call me at recess, like “Two-fingered Joe!” Hurt, I did not see why they would call me by my father's drunk name, but some of the boys seemed proud they knew what he was called by his drinking buddies. These were the wild boys in school who had older brothers and uncles in their families who partied and drank.
Some of them aspired to grow up and drink too as well as ride horses and punch cattle. Some even stole their mothers' vanilla which they called 'black alky' and got drunk when they were mere children.  
There was a lot to learn at recess, too, that was not contained in those little books about Dick and Jane and Spot. How long was I going to have to wait until I could read novels? I surmised that I was never going to find any real information in children's books. 

Fairy stories like Hansel and Gretel were about all I related to, where the poor parents had no money to feed their children and took them out in the forest for the wolves to eat, but guess what, Hansel dropped little rocks and the kids found their way home to be tolerated I supposed by the parents for a while longer until their money ran out again. 
I thought Hansel and Gretel were frightfully forgiving. I doubted if I would have been that anxious to get back to those parents. Those kids tried so hard to find their way back home so they could be treated the same way all over again! Except maybe the rest of the world was even colder when you thought about what the old witch did to Hansel, fattening him up just like you would a pig or a chicken to kill and eat. 
No, Hansel and Gretel did not seem to belong to the same world as Dick, Jane, and Spot. I was surprised we were even allowed to read such a tragic story about brutal parents that just seemed to be the norm.

1 comment:

  1. There are probably a lotof folks who would prefer Dick nd Jane to be more like Hansel and Gretel. But Hansel was a European while Dick was a true blue American kid, with no imagination. He would probably never think of leaving a trail of stones.

    Delighted to read about your two room school house. I've seen those places but I grew up in a don't-get-lost-in-the-crowd educational system.